Tested: mobile check-in, boarding pass for international flights

By Chris C., August 21 2018
Tested: mobile check-in, boarding pass for international flights

Using your smartphone as your boarding pass is commonplace on Australian domestic flights and plenty of international journeys too – just not those departing from Australia, where airlines are only now beginning to offer mobile phone check-in and boarding passes in lieu of the traditional print-out.

Read: Now you can use your smartphone to check in for Australian international flights

However, with Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and United all now offering mobile phone check-in and boarding passes, I put the experience to the test on a recent Cathay Pacific flight from Brisbane to Hong Kong to see how it worked out.

International check-in using your mobile phone

After downloading the Cathay Pacific app onto my iPhone from Apple’s App Store (also on Google Play for Android) and taking the obvious step of entering my name and booking reference number on the day before my flight, I’m ready to check-in:

The system asks me to confirm my passport details, that I’m not travelling with dangerous goods or other prohibited items, and then provides an opportunity to check or change my seat. I’d already pre-selected my spot at the bulkhead in premium economy, and it looks to be quite a full flight, so I stay put:

Before long, my digital boarding pass arrives and I’ve added it to Apple Wallet, ready to fly…

… and although Cathay Pacific normally issues printed invitations for eligible passengers to present at the lounge, I notice that the lounge invitation information can be accessed by pressing the “i” button at the bottom left of the boarding pass:

Being the first time I’ve departed Australia internationally using a mobile boarding pass, for this trip, I still printed out a traditional pass to keep as a backup – which would later come in handy – even though it’s far from my first time using mobile check-in for other international journeys elsewhere in the world, as my bursting Apple Wallet reminds:

Flying internationally with a mobile phone boarding pass

Fast-forward to my arrival at the airport: my iPhone detects my location and keeps my Cathay Pacific boarding pass at the top of my lock screen, above all other notifications. All I have to do is click or swipe to open it up and display the full boarding pass, which is easily done as required:

With no bags to check-in on a short business trip, I make a beeline for security and passport control with no need to stop by the airline check-in desks, making it to the lounge in record time: just six minutes from kerb to the Qantas Business Lounge reception desk.

However, here’s where that printed pass came in handy.

Cathay Pacific offers lounge access to many of its passengers beyond its standard Oneworld alliance obligations, such as for Marco Polo Club Silver frequent flyers, other Marco Polo Club members when unlocking certain benefits, for passengers connecting between flights in different cabin classes in some circumstances, and so on, so most lounge staff are trained to require a ‘lounge invitation’ for entry.

Falling into that category, I found the Qantas lounge happily accepting my mobile boarding pass to scan me in for the flight itself, but they wouldn’t accept the mere sighting of the lounge invitation text on the Apple Wallet screen for admission – a printed invitation was required, and I’m glad I had one to hand over, as was included on the same page as my computer-printed boarding pass.

Hopefully Cathay Pacific can work with its lounge partners to make this process smoother as mobile boarding passes become more common, because having to print out a lounge invitation or swing by the check-in desks to receive one defeats the time-saving nature of mobile check-in.

At the boarding gate, my mobile boarding pass worked just fine – ditto when stepping onto the aircraft – that is, after the gate staff swiped my passport through their system, to confirm it was valid and that I could enter my final destination (Hong Kong): a standard procedure normally competed at the traditional check-in desks, or in some cases, at the lounge, but a quick swipe and I was on my way.

Jetting abroad from Australia using a smartphone boarding pass: the verdict

Overall, it’s great to see that Australia is finally catching up with what feels like the rest of the world in allowing passengers to leave the country using a mobile phone boarding pass, saving time for business travellers – and particularly, those who habitually fly with only carry-on bags.

I also like not having a printed boarding pass unless it’s necessary, as it’s one less thing to cart around, and to shred when I get back home, after confirming any frequent flyer points have arrived: the pass simply stays in Apple Wallet – handy for any manual mileage claims – and can be deleted with a quick click (or in my case, added to the growing collection).

It’s early days, and as with anything tech-related, there are always bound to be a few hiccups at the beginning, such as for things like lounge access, but as more airlines come on board and the wrinkles are ironed out, flying internationally from Australia is sure to become a whole lot easier!

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Cathay Pacific.

Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

22 Dec 2017

Total posts 26

I love the Apple Wallet screenshot Chris. What an eclectic mix!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Jun 2017

Total posts 41

I recently tested it with QF going to Auckland and I was extremely impressed. Worked well with the express lane, lounge and departure. I like the printed copy but as you mentioned Chris, it usually goes to waste.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

31 Oct 2016

Total posts 71

As someone who works in Technology, I expect it to fail me, so where possible I use my phone, but everything is printed out in my travel book as a point of redundancy

It does look, however, that the book will be staying in my bag even longer from now on!

Does Qantas accept their own customers using the app for admission to lounge,or was it because you were on a Cathay tkt and they are just getting used to the technology.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

As in the story, Cathay Pacific is big on 'lounge invitations' because lounge access is provided for a wider variety of passengers than the standard Oneworld arrangements. Qantas should have no problems admitting its own passengers to the lounge when a mobile boarding pass is presented, just as they do for domestic.

04 May 2018

Total posts 43

You have expess arrival at Hkg as a frequent traveller? If not keep your paper boarding pass because three in one year gives you access like a local citizen for three months 'though no work is allowed.

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2482

Australian citizens no longer need three visits to register (or Qantas Gold status etc.) - as of last year, Australian passport holders can enrol on their first visit, after clearing 'normal' passport control once. See here.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 681

Glad that your Cathay / Apple experience worked well for you Chris. It shows what technology has the potential to do, when developed properly.

However, a word of warning to those using the Android version of Cathay's app is definitely required. For the uninitiated, Cathay has struggled with the Android version of their app for in excess of the last 18-24 months. Whether the problem is lack of knowledge, lack of resourcing, use of outsource development partners, I don't know.

What I do know (and many CX Android user's share) is a plethora of failed logins, extremely slow app start-up times often in excess of four (4) minutes, loss of boarding pass and often, the requirement to login in again just to access etc. There are a multitude of complaints, comments and outright abuse from users on the Google Playstore Cathay app page.

Just the messenger so don't shoot me, but my own experience with this app is less than satisfactory.

By contrast, the QF app works like a dream for int'nl travel. Its on of the things they get right.

Hopefully, Cathay will - in time - get this right. But I wouldn't 'hold my breath' for a quick resolution.


04 Oct 2013

Total posts 11

I tried to use it last year either AirFrance or Aegean and whilst it was accepted for baggage drop off, CUSTOMS could not read it had a mad race back to get paper ones. Wont risk it again

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